Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A beautiful place

Its not all bad where I work. In fact I love the City very much. Here are some of the reasons why:
  • My sister works just round the corner from me so we can meet up for drinks and dinner whenever we're not too busy.
  • All my favourite shops are a mere stroll from my office (Jones The Bootmaker, Space NK, Monsoon, Gap, Links...mmmm......)
  • There are more coffee shops, cafes and restaurants than people.
  • There is no litter or graffiti whatsoever.
  • There is always a new building going up, and big cranes to watch.
  • It is full of street names that tell old stories: Milk Street, Honey Lane, Poultry, Fish Street Hill, Limeburner Lane.
  • I love the architecture so much - both the very ancient and the achingly modern.

Here are some more pictures I took in the sunshine this lunchtime.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Playlists and moods

I am a great believer in acknowledging your emotions and making the most of them as far as possible. If I am tired, I don't want to try and perk myself up - I want to give in to the tiredness. If I am excited, I want to fizz and leap around with excitement, not contain it.

When I bought myself an iPod a couple of years ago, the function I was most excited about was the ability to create playlists. Imagine - your very own 'mix tapes', as many as you like, and one to match every mood!

Among the dozens of playlists I have, there are some called:
  • Energetic (good for walking in the sunshine)
  • Happy songs
  • Mellow
  • Heartbreak (I don't have much of that in my life, but the songs are so good that its nice to pretend sometimes)
  • Peaceful
  • Sleepy
  • Romance
  • Upbeat

One of the times I listen to music most frequently is on the walk and tube journey home from work. For a long time now I've been trying to put together the ultimate playlist for this journey, but it has been a tricky task.

I first started off with one I called 'A walk through the City' and it has sweetly upbeat tracks like Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow by Michael Buble, I Get Around by The Beach Boys and Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. But I am not often in a sweetly upbeat kind of mood when I come out of work, so although its a nice playlist to sashay about town in, wearing a new pair of shoes, it doesn't match my leaving-work mood.

Then after a couple of really bad weeks at work recently I created a playlist called 'Pretty cross' which has all the angriest, noisiest tracks I own. Tracks like Epoca by The Gotan Project, Stan by Eminem, You Had Me by Joss Stone and Firestarter by Prodigy. I absolutely loved walking home to this playlist - it matched my mood while work was so grim. But because it was reinforcing my mood, I would arrive home in an absolutely horrible temper, which didn't seem fair on G and the children.

Tonight at the tube station, I was scrolling through all the playlists again and after dithering for too long I plumped for the first playlist I ever put together - my list of favourite Country tracks:

  • I'm Down To My Last Cigarette - by k.d.Lang
  • There's Your Trouble - by The Dixie Chicks
  • Lone Star State of Mind - by Nanci Griffiths
  • Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue - by Crystal Gayle
  • She's In Love With The Boy - by Trisha Yearwood
  • Why Don't We Get Drunk - by Jimmy Buffett
  • Hey Good Lookin' - by Tammy Wynette
  • Annie's Song - by John Denver
  • Save The Last Dance For Me - by Emmylou Harris
  • Talking In Your Sleep - by Crystal Gayle
  • Stand By Your Man - by Tammy Wynette
  • Tonight The Heartache's On Me - by The Dixie Chicks
  • Two Pina Coladas - by Garth Brooks
  • Here You Come Again - by Dolly Parton

It turned out that this was just the playlist I need to listen to after work. It takes me out of my day by giving me happy, catchy tunes and memorable lyrics...


Her daddy says, "He ain't worth a lick
When it came to brains, he got the short end of the stick"

But Katie's young and man she just don't care

She'd follow Tommy anywhere!

(She's In Love With The Boy)



So bring me two pina coladas

One for each hand

Let's set sail with Captain Morgan

And never leave dry land

(Two Pina Coladas)


It turns out that the mood I am often in when I leave work is not one that I should give into, relish or enjoy after all; but one that I need to leave firmly behind at the office doors.


Thursday, 25 October 2007


I have never thought of myself as a creative person. At school, the creative people were the ones who could draw or paint; I never moved beyond stick men. The creative people were the ones who didn't follow the rules but made up their own, better ones. I on the other hand was really good at languages because if you learn & follow the rules of grammar it all works; that was much more my style.

But over the past few months a couple of people have described me as creative, and after initially scoffing at the compliment I thought again. When a friend described me as creative I protested that I was not (she didn't know I can still only draw stick men I reasoned - she was just wrong). But in reply she pointed out that I bake, write, garden and do the occasional bit of sewing which are all creative things.

Jane Brocket's gorgeous new book The Gentle Art of Domesticity makes a very articulate case for creativity in the home. She argues that creativity need not be just the output of a best selling artist or a top fashion designer. Creativity can be making a batch of madly decorated fairy cakes or photographing back-yard flowers in the sunshine.

So I am starting to redefine my idea of creativity. Here is my list of recent creations around the home.


Last night I finished a little hand stitched quilt that I had made for O's dolls' bed. And it is one of the things I have created that I am most proud of. Mainly because I finished it.

I fell in love with quilts when I was at college in America for a year.

I was in awe of the beautiful, old quilts that students brought with them to college. When I asked them where they got them from I couldn't believe they had been stitched by their grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Beautiful family heirlooms being taken to college - how cool!

I bought a quilting book and spent many afternoons wandering around the quilt shop in Roanoke stroking fabrics and admiring the quilts on display. When I returned to the UK I bought fabric to make a huge king-sized quilt and started cutting and stitching. Very soon I was completely overwhelmed with the size of the task I had undertaken and I packed the partly made quilt away in fear.

But I've always wanted to make a quilt, so when I found myself with more time on my hands last month I thought I would have another go. But this time I sensibly picked a more manageable size.

I am so proud of it! Particularly the binding around the edge which I was not confident about, but which turned out to be easier than it looked.



To celebrate the end of the quilt I stitched a strawberry from Sew Pretty Homestyle last night. It needs more stuffing, the leaves aren't quite right, and I have no idea what to do with it, but its done. And it only took an hour while I was watching tele!

Hama beads

Aren't these gorgeous?

O got the beads for her birthday and the children and I have all been completely absorbed by them this week. You put the beads on a peg board to make your design, then when it is finished fuse the beads together with an iron and a piece of waxed paper and remove from the board. They're so colourful and I particularly like the randomness of the star and the circle.


C needed some more jumpers and said he wanted a Star Wars one. I didn't have the energy to hunt around the shops for one, so told him I would make one instead.


I used a £2 sweatshirt from Matalan, scraps of fabric and embroidery thread plus a Jedi font from the internet. C told me I needed to use purple, turquoise, green and orange as those are Jedi colours. I wouldn't have chosen this combination myself, but as I am not a control freak I did as I was asked.


Birthday cakes


Two birthdays this past weekend meant two birthday cakes - yum!

Monday, 22 October 2007

This time 5 years ago....

...I was:
  • enjoying the party atmosphere of four midwives, my mother and G in the room with me as I was in labour
  • in disbelief that I could have forgotten how much it HURT
  • fretting about C and whether he was going to be put out to come back from Nursery and discover a new sister
  • extremely relieved that my children would not quite share a birthday
  • determined to do things differently second time around - rest properly and let everyone fuss over me
  • enjoying all the pretty pink baby clothes that had suddenly appeared
  • pleased to find out that I was after all the sort of person who wanted her mother with her at the birth. I never thought that would be me, but it turns out it was, and I'm very glad it was.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Forest and garden

On Thursday I went to Kew Gardens for the day to see the new Henry Moore exhibition. I love Kew Gardens. Nearly eleven years ago, G and I went there for our second date, and when he showed enthusiasm for all the newly-green trees and spring bulbs sprouting around us, I knew I had found someone I could grow old with (or at least witter on about trees to for a very long time).

But much as I love Kew, its a surprisingly long way from where we live, and so I don't go very often. There are many green spaces in the East End (in contrast to the unremitting blue-grey of the EastEnders credits which is many people's perception of where we live), and here is my list of favourites:
  • West Ham Park - a photo from here forms the banner at the top of this blog. Best in the summer when you can laze under the trees eating ice creams and the children can run wild in the fantastic and huge playground.
  • Victoria Park in Hackney - best for children with bikes and slides so steep and dangerous that I can't bear to watch.
  • Valentines Park in Ilford - best for old fashioned tea rooms, a bandstand and tame squirrels and ducks that will come and eat out of your hand.
  • Weald Country Park in South Weald near Brentwood - best for friendly deer and huge cavernous rhodedendron bushes that are so big you can go exploring inside them.
  • Epping Forest from Leyton out to darkest Essex. There are so many nice parts to Epping Forest, and there's nothing to it other than trees. Its a proper, ancient piece of woodland, unspoilt by playgrounds, cricket grounds or ornamental tulip beds. When we go there we clamber over logs, stomp through mud and kick leaves everywhere.

You couldn't get more of a contrast than Kew Gardens and Epping Forest, but there's room for both in my life. Trees are good wherever they grow.

Friday, 19 October 2007

This time 8 years ago....

....I was:

  • the size of a bus
  • worrying about whether we had enough teabgs to make the midwives cups of tea
  • living in a house with no curtains or sofa
  • desperate to wear something other than that enormous shirt and maternity jeans you see me in; they were the only clothes I could fit into
  • drinking pineapple juice and eating a hot curry
  • thinking I would sleep better once the baby was born and I could lie on my back again - ha!
  • looking forward to drinking wine again
  • worried that I might have lost my taste for wine during the preceding nine months - ha!
  • thinking that one tiny packet of nappies was enough to last me for weeks
  • looking forward to the next day when I would meet my baby, even more than C is now looking forward to tomorrow when he can rip the wrapping paper off all his presents

Monday, 15 October 2007

The Pasta Pesto Problem

Just over two years ago, I decided to start writing down a weekly menu plan. I dug out an old exercise book, wrote the days of the week down the left hand margin of the first page and the different meals across the top and then began filling in the gaps with what I was going to cook for each meal.

On the inside of the front cover I also wrote down my reasons for starting these menu plans:

  • budgeting
  • to avoid last minute mealtime panics
  • to give the children a more varied diet; not the same dishes all the time

This last point I now refer to as The Pasta Pesto Problem....When suddenly its nearly 6pm, the children are hungry and there is nothing ready for their tea - what do you do? In barely ten minutes you can cook a pan full of pasta, spoon over some pesto and grate over a bit of extra cheese. If you are feeling really guilty you can throw some frozen peas as well so they have at least eaten one portion of vegetables.

My friend Nicky, who recently moved to Zambia with her family, emailed me about the difficulty of getting hold of pesto in Lusaka:

"The food here is soooo expensive, I went to a shop the other day and bought a small jar of pesto - it was five pounds!! I know you are probably thinking make your own - but there is no cheese here only a rubber product they call cheese and pine nuts are about five pounds too! Therefore the UK staple of Pasta Pesto is no longer a meal we eat, only on special occasions. It is also expensive to buy olive oil, I so wished I had put a couple of tins in the container. A small 750ml bottle here is between 6 - 10 pounds. I treated myself to a bottle the other day!"

Pasta Pesto is now such a staple food for parents of small people everywhere. What was the 70s equivalent when I was growing up? I can't remember - maybe beans on toast?

My original exercise book has turned into my biggest collection of lists, and after more than two years is nearly full. Flicking through it I can see that we do still eat a great many tuna sandwiches for our lunch, and the amount of scrambled egg we eat has increased substantially since we got the hens in early 2006. I can see that I make less cauliflower cheese than I used to and that every winter I make a great many pies and many batches of soup.

Today I bought a lovely new Moleskine notebook for the next volume, which I will begin in the new year.

In years to come, the children will be able to flick through these notebooks and will no doubt say "You cooked us so much Pasta Pesto, Mum". I won't be able to deny it - it's written down in my own handwriting!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

I must not be a control freak

I was very proud of myself this morning. I did not give in to my control freak tendencies, despite temptation. Some might say quite extreme temptation.

The occasion was C, doing his hair ready for school. He spent a good ten minutes putting gel in (yes - that means nearly a whole tube of the stuff - if there had been a naked flame anywhere near his room this morning the whole house would have gone up).

What's so bad about him putting gel in his hair? you are thinking...but wait until you see what hairstyle he was trying to copy...




Oh, yes. A manga-style character from his beloved Yu-Gi-Oh card game. That's manga as in sticky up hair in vertical clumps.

I was tempted to ask him to go and wash out the gel and comb it flat, but just in time I remembered that self expression is a Good Thing in children and that I shouldn't crush his emerging sense of individual style with my desire to have everything just the way I want it.

So today's post is in celebration of my only-sometimes-under-control control freakery. Here are some other things that turn me into a CF:

  • Being a passenger in a car. I would much rather drive. Sometimes, members of my family who have endured me as a passenger also say they would rather I drive next time.
  • Leaves on the lawn. Argh - this drives me mad. There is a beautiful and very old cherry tree that grows in our garden. I love it in the spring when the blossom is so beautiful and in the summer when we can enjoy the dappled shade, but I hate it in the autumn.
  • My pens. Please don't borrow them. Ever.
  • Unmade beds. I really hate them. You can't start the day with an unmade bed. And just tweaking the corners of the duvet does not mean the bed is made. You need to shake out the duvet and toss it over the bed freshly every morning.
  • Felt tip pens with no lids on.

I can't help but remember the wonderful episode of Friends where Monica hosts a party and the guests play games which require the use of felt tip pens. She hectors everyboby on how the lids mustn't just be put back on the pens, but they must be put back and pushed until you hear the little click. Whenever I see a felt tip pen with no lid, I do scrabble around looking for the lid, and tut to myself. But I also remind myself that a new tub of 100 pens is only £5. Not the end of the world.



PS. Have just noticed that there is a pencil in the pen tub above. Now that really is upsetting.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Gus's Granny's tea bread

Here is one of those wonderful recipes handed down through generations, beloved and consistently reliable. In this case the original recipe came from my sister-in-law's grandmother, but I have adapted it somewhat (I think this happens to any recipe that gets passed on - it is in people's nature to tweak things and create their version).

Gus's Granny's tea bread
  • 225g mixed fruit
  • 250ml tea
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1 beaten egg

Soak the fruit in the tea overnight. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, then beat well. Grease a 1lb loaf tin, spoon the mixture in and bake at gas 3 for 1 hour. Test with a skewer for readiness and allow to cool completely before cutting.


Now, you can see that the recipe is very brief, but there is more to it that you might first think.


The fruit

I despise and loathe candied peel, so my version of the 'mixed fruit' in the recipe is a 50:50 mixture of sultanas and chopped, dried apricots. I have also done it just with sultanas and just with apricots, both of which are very tasty alternatives. A strange but good third option is to use chopped, dried figs.


The tea

Any tea will do, but for a really aromatic, delicate result use Earl Grey. I make up the 250ml with two teabags if I am using Earl Grey.


Mixing and beating

When you put all the ingredients together, it does look as if it will never mix successfully, but have faith and be firm with the mixture. It will soon look good.



As this cake contains no fat whatsoever, you can feel very virtuous eating it. Or alternatively, you can spread it with butter and eat slice after slice when you come home from school!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Swimming kit

I have mentioned before that I am not a great swimmer, or even an enthusiastic one. I do, however, live with three very keen swimmers. G took O and her friend swimming this morning, and it struck me as they were getting their things ready, that there was an incredible amount of swimming stuff that they were packing to take with them. I then thought I should probably refer to it as 'kit' not 'stuff'.

While they were out I had a rummage and the extent of the 'kit' I found was astonishing. Here is a list of what G and the children have:

  • a wetronome - a strange little device that the swimmer fixes to the strap of their goggles, and which then beeps in their ear at regular intervals to tell the swimmer how regular their stroke should be.
  • goggles - I found seven pairs, and suspect there are more around somewhere. When I learnt to swim, goggles weren't even mandatory.
  • fins - we have four pairs and G is considering buying more.
  • hand mits or paddles - again something that G feels he needs more of
  • pull bouy - to stick between your knees in order to practise arm technique
  • goggle counter - another device to fix onto your goggles which keeps count of how many lengths you have swum
  • wetsuit - for open water swimming in lakes or the sea
  • wetsuit bonnet - for when its so cold that your head would get dangerously cold, but not so cold that you sensibly stay at home.
  • wetsuit socks - ditto for your feet.
  • pool shoes
  • stopwatch - to time your lengths or long distances
  • wall chart - to be stuck to the fridge to monitor your best times
  • water bottle - these breed in our house. We must have nearly a dozen by now. Why do you need to take extra water swimming??

And of course, this list doesn't even mention trunks (or swimming knickers as my father-in-law calls them to much hilarity). I found four pairs of G's, and he said there were at least two more pairs that I hadn't managed to track down.

And in case, by any chance you are thinking "sheesh - they really must have all the swimming kit it is possible for one family to own"...take a look here.

Friday, 5 October 2007

A blue mood

My friend Gill has made me this sweet little blue and green chick. I was so pleased with it; not just because it is a lovely thing and Gill made it for me, but also because of its blue and green colours. Gill makes lots of things, but doesn't really 'do' the colour blue. I love blue though - it is my favourite colour in every shade - so I feel as though I need to persuade Gill into making more things in blue.

After far too many dreary, cold and wet days, the weather here has suddenly turned bright and autumnal again. I hung the children's school shirts on the line this morning and was dazzled by the matching crisp blues of the shirts and the sky.

Here are some other blues that I love:

  • C's bright blue eyes
  • bluebells on the forest floor in the spring
  • my pretty blue shoes with bows on the toes (only to be worn on hot, dry days - I once called G to pick me up from the tube - about a five minute walk from home - because it had started to rain and I didn't want to spoil my blue shoes)
  • the blue cloth wall hanging (now extremely faded) that G has had for nearly twenty years and which I am too sentimental about to get rid of
  • a bright, sparkling, blue sea

Who says 'blue and green should never be seen'? I have just noticed that all of these pictures contain greens as vivid as the blues!

I am making something of my own from blue fabric at the moment - a little quilt for O's dolls' bed. I went to the local quilt shop a few weeks ago and was beguiled into buying some pretty fabric scraps to 'make something with'. I eventually settled on the idea of a little quilt, but I will be pairing the pale blue with more traditional (and more acceptable to O's taste) pinks.